Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Quick quiz: How many of the Steelers’ seven wins have come against teams with a winning record?

Answer: One.

They beat the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens, 23-16, in Baltimore on Nov. 4. Of course, they also lost to the Ravens at home, 26-14, on Sept. 30.

They’ve beaten and tied some pretty bad teams on the way to their 7-4-1 record. And, let’s face it, the two-game losing streak they’re on today could easily be three if not for the gifts given to them by the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago. And if you’re going to blame the officials for the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week, you’re making excuses. That’s what losers do. Great teams, the ones that go to Super Bowls, overcome questionable officiating.

The Steelers have beaten and tied the Cleveland Browns (4-7-1), and they’ve beaten the Tampa Bay Bucs (5-7), Atlanta Falcons (4-8), Cincinnati Bengals (5-7), Ravens (7-5), Carolina Panthers (6-6) and the Jaguars (4-9).

They’ve beaten a mediocre team and a lot of teams that stink. Their combined record is 35-49-1. The good news for the Steelers is that today they play another team that stinks. The Raiders are 2-10. But the Raiders might not stink as much as some of the teams they’ve beaten. They play in the AFC West, a much tougher division than the AFC North. They’ve lost to the Denver Broncos and the Chargers twice. Both of those teams beat the Steelers. The Raiders also have a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, who are 11-1, the 10-2 Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks, who are 7-5.

The NFL didn’t welcome Jon Gruden back to coaching with an easy schedule.The Raiders are bad but they might be a little sneaky bad and that probably means the Steelers shouldn’t be expecting an easy game today.

The Raiders’ quarterback, Derek Carr, is the kind of guy who can cause the Steelers’ defense problems. He was 29-for-38 with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 40-30 loss to the Chiefs last last week.

He has 671 yards, six touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last three games.

As every Steelers fan knows, coach Mike Tomlin’s teams don’t do well on the west coast and they have lost a lot of games that were supposed to be easy.

This one’s not as easy as it looks.

  • Speaking of easy, how about the New England Patriots’ division, the AFC East, which they could win for the 10th year in a row with a win in Miami today? The Patriots are the only team in the division with a winning record. And as Almondo Salguero of the Miami Herald pointed out, the Patriots’ record against the AFC East since 2001 is 83-24.

That’s 31-4 against Buffalo, 28-9 against the New York Jets and 24-11 against Miami.

During that time, the Patriots have had two starting quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Cassell, who played when Brady missed the 2008 season. And they’ve had one head coach.

The Bills, Jets and Dolphins have had 52 quarterbacks and 22 head coaches. Stability seems to work well in the NFL.

  • Apparently, there is a movement in the NFL to do something about the punt, with the goal to eventually eliminate it. It’s all about reducing injuries. The long-range goal, apparently, is to eliminate football. That would really cut down on football injuries.

Sports Illustrated asked for suggestions on how to make punts more exciting while also making them safer. The best one was to eliminate punting altogether. Make teams go for it on every fourth down no matter where they are on the field.

Sounds like a plan.

There are so many stupid block-in-the back penalties on punt returns they’ve become more likely to be annoying than exciting, anyway.

  • Derek Henry of the Houston Texans tied Tony Dorset’s NFL record for the longest run from scrimmage when he went 99 yards against Jacksonville Thursday night. It was a spectacular run, but it was also a glaring example of how bad the tackling is in the NFL these days. You know it’s a problem when a 6-3, 247-pound running back is running in the open field for 99 yards and every defender he encounters tries to grab him by the shoulders.
  • West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is probably doing the smart thing by deciding not to play in the Camping World Bowl. He’s expected to be a first-round draft pick and an injury could cost him millions of dollars, even with an insurance policy. But why should any of the best players on the best teams play in bowl games? Maybe bowl games are bad ideas unless they’re used to pick a Mythical National Champion.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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